Passionate About Central New York
and the Moms Who Live Here

Children in the Garden: Lessons For Everyone

cartoon about garden planning

I get pretty giddy about my garden. I remember the very moment, as a child, that I decided that I would have my own little plot some day. There was even a running joke in my high school French class that I was destined to be a farmer. Now that I finally have my own lawn to obliterate, I’m in urban homesteader heaven. Of course my motivations include the health and entertainment values of growing our own food, but even more exciting than watching veggie seeds germinate (and that’s pretty exciting!) is planting the seeds of gardening excitement in my own kids.

Lessons for Kids

Hey Girl, Tell me more about your dark, friable loam.

Even Ryan wants to nerd out with me about my garden soil. Swoon! 😉

Kids are great for gardens, and gardens are great for kids. Well, perhaps if you grow a formal English flower garden, then maybe you don’t want tiny fingers snapping off blossoms willy-nilly. But even there, it’s a place to learn about order, rhythm, color, balance, beauty. Vegetable gardens–even just a couple pots, container-garden style–are fantastic because they have such an obvious reward for your labor. Who doesn’t love fresh food? Starting plants from seed gives your kids an opportunity to witness the life-cycle from beginning to end. You can talk about the magic recipe of sun+soil+water+wind. The kids can help water, and practice being responsible for life with a little less investment and worry than when caring for an animal pet. And in an era when kids just don’t know where food comes from (can you believe these high schoolers thought butter comes from corn?!), you really can’t do too much to educate your children on these basic facts of life.

Garden-prep work with kids.

My daughter counting out fava beans for our garden. She helped out and felt included, and I snuck in a lesson about counting by 5s. Win-win!

Even little kids can do a surprising about of work in the garden. Keep them away from powdered fertilizers and sharp tools, but you can make them their own little tool kit with a mini-watering can, tiny trowel, gloves, and safety scissors (for snipping off dead blossoms or harvesting vegetables). And if you don’t want kids meddling with the produce plants, you can set aside a “bed” for them–even just a 1’x2′ stretch of ground, marked with lawn paint, string on pegs, or scrap wood–to provide them hours of mud-pie making and imaginary play.

Lessons for Me

I say all this, but, I have a confession… one thing that I know that I could do better about gardening with my kids is letting them do or experiment more. Like Katie said, “joy and love,” and mama letting go a little, are what make a shared experience deliciously memorable, and Victoria advises that we should let kids mix the playdough. I love having my kids help out, but at the end of the day, I still want the rows straight and the weeds in the compost (not “replanted for a new garden,” as happened just the other day).

pallet gardens

So one spring weekend, when I stopped at the hardware store for something, a tiny little pallet, just about 18″x30″, caught my eye. They let me take it home for free. I excitedly showed my daughter pictures of pallet gardens, and then the mini-pallet, and proudly announced that she could take ownership of it and plant whatever she wanted that would fit. As she exploded with joy and worked her way down an improbably long list of things she hoped to pack into that small space, she came to strawberries–and I realized, oh shoot, that tiny pallet would have been just perfect for our first year of strawberries, and here I’ve gone just giving it away. The urge to reclaim the planter nearly leapt out of my mouth, but just in time I bit my tongue. No, I reprimanded myself, this one’s for her.

So now, instead of my tidy strawberry patch, she can tend her mini-jungle of “arugula, lettuce, radishes, and marigolds, with probably some carrots, strawberries, pumpkins, squash, lemons, and raspberries and blueberries and grapes mixed in” (just kidding–I will still rein in certain unrealistic aspects of her wild imagination). She can water. She can weed. And I’d even bet money that she’s going to eat her vegetables–because they’ll be hers.

Do you garden with your kids? What do you like to grow? Any tips for making it fun for little ones?


  1. Central New York & Syracuse - I (secretly) Love It Here And You Do Too - June 14, 2016

    […] on any given night of the week in good weather. We’ve even got tips at SMB about how to grow your own food here in CNY, or pick what’s already growing […]

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